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Walker Standing On The Necks Of County Workers, Tax Payers Alike

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on October 30, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

In his proposed 2011 Milwaukee County Budget, Scott Walker has listed a number of concessions he wants from the employees:

He urged supervisors to “hold firm and make the tough decisions” on employee concessions. His 2011 budget calls for freezing wages, eliminating seniority raises, requiring employees to pay more for health care and to contribute 5% of gross pay toward their pensions.

We have told you that he would be doing this through the part of the county budget that deals with pay and benefits, which is number 1972.  You can see the actual proposal for the wages and benefits by clicking here.

Walker justifies these concessions by pointing to the private sector and the sacrifices that have been made by those workers.

The problem with Walker’s proposed concessions is that he has never presented them to the unions at the negotiating table.  This doesn’t give the unions to respond in any fashion to them and so they are a moot point.

Walker attempted the same thing in the 2010 budget, and like with this one, never presented his concessionary proposals to the unions.  The result so far has been scores of workers laid off, services scaled even further back and a projected deficit of $6.6 million for 2010.

It’s not that the unions don’t expect to give concession.  Quite to the contrary, in the fall of 2009, the unions and the County reached a Tentative Agreement which included pay freezes for two years and higher premiums and co-pays for the health insurance.  In return, the unions only asked for a no lay off clause.

Unfortunately for all involved, the County rejected this agreement.

Because of that rejection, the unions and the County has been working under the old contract, which expired at the end of 2008. That means that workers are still receiving their raises and paying lower amounts for their health insurance than if the Agreement had been approved.  That also means that the County has chosen to squander millions of dollars in potential savings.  Just so Scott Walker could have a political talking point.

The lost savings is not the only cost that Milwaukee County tax payers have to bear.

In a letter from the presidents of AFSCME’s Locals, they outline the steps that the unions of taken because of all the illegal budgeting and bad faith bargaining.  These actions include:

  • Filed a Bad Faith Bargaining charge against the County and the County Board.
  • Filed a charge of violation against the State Statute requiring a balanced budget.
  • Filed an EEOC complaint that the County’s actions adversely impacted older workers.
  • Filed a claim that the County unilaterally reduced wages and benefits by their furlough days without negotiating with the Union on a mandatory subject.
  • Filed a claim that the furlough days violated a previous arbitration decision, limiting the number of hours that could be reduced.  This was appealed by the County to circuit court, where it was overturned and is now on appeal by the Union.
  • Filed a claim that the furlough days impacted workers close to retiring in that the final average wage was reduced.
  • Filed a claim on the contracting out and subcontracting out of work without following the proper procedure under the Contract.
  • Filed a claim of coercion, specifically with the 2011 County Executive Budget which proposes a set of concessions or else.
  • Filed a claim on the application of furlough days to employees in the same classification without regard to seniority.
  • Filed a claim on the scheduling of furlough days without regard to seniority.
  • Filed a claim that the policy prohibiting overtime during a week when a furlough day was scheduled violated the Contract and resulted in unjust discipline (i.e. in essence a suspension from work).
  • Filed a claim that the County refused to negotiate on issues of wages, hours and working conditions and unilaterally implemented same.

Each of these actions will bear a cost to the County, and hence to the tax payer, in varying degrees.  At the minimum, it will cost the County, who has foregone using their own Corporation Counsel, by having to pay high priced private attorneys to defend them in these various actions. The fifth bullet point alone will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, since it’s already at the appellate level and is almost guaranteed to end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Some will cost more.  For example, if the unions are successful regarding the extra furlough days being unilaterally applied to only some workers but not others, the County could have to reimburse the workers for those days above what others were given.  This could easily total in the millions of dollars.

Then all of these actions are said and done, it’s not done yet  From the letter:

…When the decision is issued (which we think should be any day), the parties will have to finalize their offers and finally select an arbitrator, get a date(s) for the hearing, hold the hearing, file briefs, and await a decision from the Arbitrator, who will select either the Union’s or the County’s Final Offer.  It is winner takes all.

The arbitrator, in making his or her decision, will compare the two offers.  They will also compare these offers to what is happening in other counties and municipalities.

The County’s final offer will have be what is in the budget.  If they scale back on their offer, it will make it obvious that Walker has been purposely playing political games with the budgets, needlessly squandering tax payer money and putting many people, workers and clients, through cruel and sadistic anxiety.

If the unions submit a modest proposal that includes a higher payment for health care and maybe a small pay increase, say one or two percent, the arbitrator will likely opt for that, since it is most similar to other contracts which were bargained out between other governments and their unions.

This in turns mean that the tax payers will be deeper on the hook than if the County had accepted the Tentative Agreement, since the voluntary concessions won’t necessarily be in the final offer.

In summary, while Scott Walker’s “hard stance” against the unions may play well among his base and provide him with a great campaign talking point, the fact that he has never presented these proposed concessions to the unions proves that they are nothing more than a cynical political ploy.

Furthermore, by not actually seeking any concessions from the unions, Walker shows that he isn’t really concerned about protecting the tax payers.  To add to our grief, we will be responsible to pay off the ever-increasing debt that has already spread over generations.Instead of standing up for the tax payers, he is only stepping on their necks, as he is doing with the workers, in his desperate climb for his political aspirations.


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